What Is D&I?

Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.Vernā Myers, VP Inclusion Strategy, Netflix*

Diversity and Inclusion (or D&I) is an approach taken by organizations to building diverse teams and promoting an inclusive workplace, in order to set underrepresented groups up for success. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), Diversity & Belonging, and other variations are also common.

Understanding the differences between diversity and inclusion is essential, because both are necessary to building and fostering a workplace where all employees can thrive. As noted earlier, diverse teams perform better and contribute to longer-lasting, more successful companies. But having a demographically diverse team does not automatically lead to these benefits. It’s not possible to reap the benefits of diversity without inclusive practices.

Diversity is a condition of reflecting demographic differences in a group of people. Elements of diversity include age, caregiver status, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, immigration status, race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background.

importantIn the U.S., diversity is often a shorthand for “women and people of color,” as these are two of the most visible dimensions of diversity. But it actually includes all of the factors listed above, and more.

confusion The term diverse describes differences present in a group; therefore individuals cannot be diverse. Referring to an individual as diverse (as in, “a diverse candidate”) can put people from underrepresented backgrounds in a disempowering, “other” position. It can lead team members to think of certain candidates as “diversity candidates,” and certain new team members as “diversity hires.” It also is often used as a synonym for person of color (POC), centering “the social construct of whiteness as the normal, the axis we all move around.”*

Inclusion is the process of creating an environment that supports and encourages all employees, giving particular attention to and elevating the voices of those from underrepresented backgrounds. Inclusive processes and policies, such as eliminating vague “culture fit” interview questions and offering parental leave, address structural barriers to employees’ success.

Diversity means increasing the representation of people from marginalized backgrounds at all levels and across all functional areas of the company. Inclusion means building policies, procedures, communication channels, and compensation policies where everyone is a full participant in the structure of your company. Not enough of one or the other, and the true benefit of a diverse workforce will never be reached.Nicole Sanchez, D&I strategy consultant*

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Underrepresented groups (or URGs) are groups of people who make up a smaller percentage in an organization than they do in the overall population. The term can be used to refer either to the groups themselves or to individuals who belong to those groups.

confusionAs with much of the language on this topic, the language for describing underrepresented groups is shifting in real time. You may also see the term underrepresented minorities (URMs) used elsewhere, but this Guide will use underrepresented groups (URGs) throughout because we think it is the most accurate and up-to-date description available.*

There’s plenty of research that shows that diversity without inclusion doesn’t work. In 2015, Rachel Thomas wrote a post summarizing the available research and discussing many of the same problems we explore here. Thomas emphasizes that progress toward equity is possible when diversity and inclusion issues are both addressed, and that progress requires the involvement of everyone, especially white men and those in leadership roles. Notable among her examples were efforts at both Harvey Mudd College and Harvard Business School that increased the percentages of women in their programs after making a number of comprehensive, structural changes, focusing not just on recruiting but on making the student environment more welcoming and inclusive for everyone.

A few other key concepts round out the general understanding of diversity and inclusion.

Definition Intersectionality is a prism through which to understand the interconnectedness of social categorizations, which creates overlapping and compounding systems of oppression in society. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in a 1989 article discussing the particular challenges faced by Black women in the workplace.*

As Crenshaw described in a 2016 TED talk, she was inspired to give intersectionality a name by the case of a Black woman who was turned down for a job at a manufacturing plant. When she brought a lawsuit against the plant, her case was dismissed. The judge pointed to the fact that the employer hired both Black people and women. However, the Black people the plant hired were all men, and the women it hired were all white. Moreover, both groups were hired for work associated with racial and gendered stereotypes: the Black men were hired for industrial work and the white women were hired for secretarial work. Crenshaw concluded, “Only if the court was able to see how these policies came together would he be able to see the double discrimination that [the Black woman] was facing.”

Tokenism is the practice of hiring or appointing a small number of people from underrepresented groups to deflect criticism that a team lacks diversity. Efforts to fill roles in this way are perfunctory and symbolic.

Tokenism is a harmful practice that creates further barriers to the success of individuals from underrepresented groups, distorts the aims and intentions of D&I efforts, and perpetuates the notion that promoting diversity means lowering the hiring bar.

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